A HIV test, like sex, is best enjoyed with your partner
When I told my Australian friends that I was moving to Kenya to work as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development many of them told me not to have sex while I was here because of the country’s high HIV prevalence. Some 280 people are infected with HIV every day in Kenya.
The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is getting to zero, but getting to zero doesn’t mean zero sex. Along with zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths it also means zero unprotected sex with someone whose HIV status you don’t know.
Knowing your HIV status is the first step in prevention; if you are negative then you can take measures to ensure that you stay negative and if you are positive then you can access treatment, care and support services.
HIV is no longer something to be scared of. I’ve met many Kenyans who have been living with HIV for more than 20 years. Some are married to HIV negative partners and have HIV negative children. What is to be feared, is not knowing your HIV status.
However, it isn’t enough just to know your status. Since sex is not an individual act you also need to know the status of your partner. Some 44.1% of new infections in Kenya occur in heterosexual unions or regular heterosexual partnerships and another 20.3% through casual heterosexual sex (Kenya Modes of Transmission Study 2008).
If HIV testing and counselling is the biggest revolution in HIV prevention, then the biggest challenge is couples and getting our partners to come with us to a voluntary testing and counselling site. Partner testing is complicated because it goes beyond a simple medical test and evokes sentiments around trust and fidelity.
In a country with a national campaign against mpango wa kando (sex or a relationship on the side) and where polygamy is a cultural norm in some communities it becomes a challenge to ask people to test together with all their sexual partners.
In Kenya approximately 1.4 million people are living with HIV and AIDS but the actual figure could be much higher because only 50% of Kenyans know their HIV status and an estimated 80% of Kenyans who are HIV positive don’t know that they are.
It is therefore paramount to mobilise the community to increase uptake of testing and reduce stigma in order to eliminate new infections.
This World AIDS Day the Kenya National AIDS and STI Control Programme will launch a national couples testing initiative. For 21 days organisations like Liverpool VCT Care and Treatment (LVCT) will invite people to test together with their sexual partner. The campaign will use celebrity couples taking public HIV tests to encourage the wider community.
LVCT pioneered celebrity testing and after US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were tested in Kisumu in 2006 there was a huge increase in the number of people being tested. The CEO of Kenya’s Commercial Bank, Martin Oduor-Otieno and his wife, take public HIV tests every year.
When the Australian High Commissioner to Kenya HE Mr Geoff Tooth tested at LVCT together with his wife it made the national newspaper. My friends read the article and asked where they too could get tested.
So if you want to make a difference this World AIDS Day the question you should be asking as you read this, is do you know your correct HIV status and do you know the HIV status of your partner? If not, go and get tested and start talking about it.
Unless more people get tested, know the status of their partners and use preventative methods then the rate of new infections will continue to be 280 and above, not zero.
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